Disclaimers: See Part 1
A Special Note to Our Readers: Hoosier Daddy is a work in progress. You will likely notice a few inconsistencies here and there as you make your way through the online version of the story. We have made some tweaks and subtle adjustments to the plot, most specifically to timelines. For this, we ask your indulgence, and promise that in the final, published version of the book, everything will make sense. If not, we reserve the right to blame our editor.
Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are ours.
Violence/Sex: No violence, but some quirky sexual encounters and lots of big trucks. This story does involve a consensual, loving and romantic relationship between two adult women. It's not graphic, but if sexual encounters in bathrooms or behind lemon shake-up stands offend you, you may want to consider another story selection -- or at least one that isn't set in Indiana.
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Copyright: Ann McMan and Salem West, April 2013. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the authors.
“You better get back to the warehouse quick.” T-Bomb was out of breath from running halfway across the plant to find me. “Luanne is hoppin' mad about some missing air filters—even though I told her they'd been backordered from that plant in Litchfield for two weeks now, cause of all the flooding and power outages up that way after them tornadoes last month. But she went stormin' back there anyway, and now she's about to get unhinged all over Earl Junior.”
She was talking so fast that I was having a hard time keeping up.
“Slow down.” I put a hand on her shoulder. The fabric in her t-shirt was damp and sticking to her skin. T-Bomb worked in a section of the plant where the A.C. had been on the blink for most of the month. And today was already one for the record books: ninety-two degrees in the shade, and it was barely ten a.m. “Take a deep breath. Why's Luanne going after Earl Junior?”
“I told you. It's them damn air filters. She went back there to tell Earl Junior that he needed to figure something out pronto, and damn if she didn't find half a truckload of the dern things stashed behind some scrap carburetors. They wasn't tagged or nothin'. And when she showed them to Earl Junior, he just stood there, scratching his bits, saying he didn't know nothing about ‘em.” She wiped some sweat off her forehead. “I never seen her this mad. You gotta get back there before she takes a box cutter to him.”
I sighed. “Where's Buzz?”
It wasn't that I didn't want to get involved, but management had made it clear to me on more than one occasion that jumping into the middle of disputes like this one was above my pay grade.
T-Bomb threw up a hand in frustration. “I ain't seen so much as his shadow since I walked into this damn blast furnace three hours ago.” She narrowed her eyes as she continued to stare at me. “What's the matter with you? Has that El DeBarge still got your panties all twisted-up in a wad?”
“What are you talking about?” I fought an impulse to shake out my pant leg.
“Normally, you'd already be halfway to the warehouse instead of standing here arguing with me.”
“I am not arguing with you, T-Bomb.
“Well if this ain't an argument, then I don't know what the heck it is.”
I was trying hard not to lose patience with her. “I told you. I can't keep getting involved in this stuff. It's not my job. Besides, you know I can't leave the line without backup.”
“Well, it sure as hell needs to be somebody's job.” She pulled a blue bandana handkerchief out of her back pocket and wiped off her neck. “Fine. When we all have to eat creamed corn for the next month, you can just keep telling yourself that you did right not getting involved.”
I sighed. “Isn't your break about over?”
“Damn.” She glanced down at her watch, and then looked back at me. “Ain't telling me to get back on the line somebody else's job, too?”
“Come on. Don't be this way.”
Behind her, I could see Luanne huffing her way toward us. She looked like an angry bolt of paisley.
“Here comes Luanne,” I said.
T-Bomb turned around to watch her approach.
Luanne's face and neck were bright red. It was clear that she was still seething.
“Well?” T-Bomb asked. “What happened?”
“Somebody needs to take a tire iron to that boy.” Luanne looked at me. “He's nothin' but a half-wit, and I'm tired of workin' around his mistakes.”
“I know, I know.” I tried to get Luanne to stand still for a minute and calm down. She was breathing unevenly and I didn't like her pallor. “Why don't you go sit down in the break room for a few minutes? I'll cover for you.”
T-Bomb looked at me. “Who in the hell will cover for you?”
“I'm about due for my break, too.”
“Oh…so now you can walk away?” She waved her soggy bandana toward the production line behind me. “But five minutes ago, it was none of your business.”
I sighed. “Don't be like this, okay? You both know I can't keep getting involved in this management stuff.”
Luanne snorted. “Management, my derriere. We ain't got no ‘management' around here—and that's the problem.”
I didn't have any response to that. I could hardly tell them both that maybe they needed to be having this conversation with El and Tony.
T-Bomb agreed. “If solvin' our problems is gonna be left up to the likes of Buzz Sheets and Joe Sykes, we might as well walk outta here and get jobs passin' out shoppin' carts at Walmart.”
Luanne had moved on. “I got nothin' more to say about it, so I'll just say this.” She wagged a stubby finger at me. “You mark my words. If them Ogata people come in here and let these stupid, selfish assholes keep runnin' things, they're gonna end up in a world full of hurtin' with a shitload of lawsuits.” She pulled a pack of Viceroys out of her shirt pocket and smacked it against her palm to force one out. “I'm goin' outside for a smoke. If Buzz Sheets comes lookin' for me, you can tell him I said he can kiss my white ass.”
She turned away and stormed off toward the nearest exit.
“Well if that don't beat all.” T-Bomb looked at me. “I hope you're happy.”
“Me? What the hell does this have to do with me?”
She waved a hand. “Nothin'. Nothin' has anything to do with you. You just stay there all locked up in your own little world, safe from everybody and every thing.”
“That's not fair…” I began. She cut me off.
“I don't want to hear it. You used to be somebody who cared about other people. Now you're just so damn afraid of making mistakes that you sit there like a hunk of scrap metal.”
“I care about other people.”
“Oh, yeah? The Friday I used to know would never just sit back on the sidelines while half the damn plant worked back-to-back shifts with no air conditioning during the hottest days of the summer. The Friday I used to know would never keep her mouth shut when a primo idiot like Earl Junior got promoted ahead of five women who deserved it more—especially when she was one of the five women. The Friday I used to know would never get take up with trash like Misty Ann Marks, then run scared from somebody decent like El DeBarge.”
I was shocked. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Forget it.” She looked down at her watch. “I got no time for this. I still need this job.”
She stormed off.
I watched her go with my mouth hanging open. We'd been best friends for a lot of years, and T-Bomb had always told me the truth. But I'd never seen her as angry or disappointed in me as she seemed to be today. And what was that comment about El supposed to mean? I thought T-Bomb agreed with everybody else that getting involved with El spelled disaster for me.
I was watching her walk away when all the lights in the plant started blinking. An ear-splitting siren went off, and quickly drowned-out the ambient rush and rattle of machinery.
People were yelling at each other and shutting down the lines. Red lights were flashing overhead. I looked over toward the emergency exit in time to see a swath of paisley disappear into the sunlight before the big door slammed shut behind it.
“I need to talk with you.”
I'd caught up with Joe Sykes in the hallway that led to the front offices.
He looked down at me. His thinning brown hair was damp and plastered across his forehead like wet pieces of yarn. He did not look happy to see me.
“Stow it, Fryman.” He held up the palm of his hand. “I know why you're here, and it's not going to change anything. She's fired. End of story.”
“Look, Joe.” I tried my best to appear calm. “What she did was stupid. But you have to know that she was just angry about those air filters. She was trying to do the right thing—to keep up production and prevent lost time.”
“Oh, really?” Joe crossed his arms. They looked like ham shanks. “If she cared so much about lost fucking time, why'd she set off the goddamn fire alarm?”
“I know it was a mistake, Joe. She made a bad decision. We all do that. But she cares about her work here…you know that. She was just mad about Earl Junior. You've been there. We all have.”
Joe stood there, glaring at me and breathing through his mouth. I hated that about him. I could see little beads of moisture hanging on the stray hairs that sprouted from the dimple beneath his nose. I forced myself not to look away.
“She's trouble. She's always mouthing off and I'm sick of it.”
“Then make her cool her heels at home for a week without pay. But don't fire her, Joe.” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Not with the competition coming up on Saturday.”
Joe was a big letch, and he'd had the hots for Luanne's daughter ever since he first laid eyes on her at last year's Pork Day celebration . Everybody knew it.
I could see him waver, so I went in for the kill. “Jailissa's been working so hard, and she's got her heart set on winning this year. Luanne's been working on her costume for weeks.”
“Her costume?” he asked. “What's she wearing?” He was practically drooling. It made my skin crawl, but I pressed on.
“It's a sight to behold, Joe. White stretch pants with gold tassels—and a matching gold tank top. She's doing her flaming baton routine.” I shook my head. “But this news about her mama will likely take the wind right out of her sails.” I gingerly reached out and touched his hairy forearm. “You can prevent that, Joe. You can give Jailissa this shot at that crown.”
He sighed. “She's a good kid. I guess it's not her fault that her mama's got a wild hair up her ass.”
“That's true, Joe.”
He let out a long, slow breath. “She'd make a beautiful Pork Queen.” His tone was reverential.
“She would. It's her time, Joe.”
“All right.” He pointed a crooked finger at me. “You tell that bigmouth fatass that I don't want to see hide nor hair of her in this plant for the next two weeks.”
I bit back an expletive. Two weeks without pay was ridiculous—but it was better than no job at all.
“And if she ever pulls a stunt like this again, there won't be no discussion.” He leaned toward me. “She'll be gone. Capisce?”
I nodded. “You're a good man, Joe.” I fought an impulse to knee him in the balls. “I'll make sure she gets the message.”
I turned away from him and started to head back toward the plant, but he stopped me.
“Hold up, Fryman.”
I looked back at him.
“Don K.'s been looking for you.”
Don K. was Don Krylon—great-grandson of the founder of Krylon Motors. He still kept an office here, although he hadn't visited the Indiana facility much since the sellout to Ogata had been announced.
“Don K. is here?” I asked.
Joe jerked a thumb toward the front of the building. “Up in the conference room.”
“He wants to see me?” I repeated.
“Something wrong with your hearing?”
I shook my head.
“Well, if I were you, I wouldn't keep him waiting.”
I sighed. There was no way this was going to be good news. “Right. On my way.” I pushed past him and headed toward the front offices, wondering what else fate had in store for me.
“Sit down, Jill.”
Don K. gestured toward one of the plush, crimson-colored leather chairs that were scattered around the cherry-topped meeting table. I noticed that they each had oversized Outlaw emblems stamped on their headrests.
“Like something cold to drink? I know it's still warm out there in some parts of the plant.”
I shook my head. “No, thanks.” I took a seat in one of the chairs he'd indicated.
Don K. was about as different from Joe Sykes as wealth and biology could conspire to make him. He was tastefully dressed in gray slacks and a pink shirt with creases sharp enough to slice cheese. He looked like he'd just walked in from a three-day spa weekend. I'd only met him in passing twice before, and neither occasion seemed all that memorable to me. That piqued my curiosity and heightened my trepidation. Why did he want to talk with me? And how did he even remember who I was?
“Thanks for taking the time to come and see me, Jill.” He sat down in a chair beside me. I was surprised that he didn't automatically take a seat directly across the table. Strangely, it put me a little more at ease. I felt less like I had been called into the principal's office.
I nodded. “Joe said you wanted to see me.”
Don K. smiled. His mouthful of perfect teeth had probably added a screened porch to the beach house of some orthodontist.
“He's right. In fact, I've wanted to talk with you for some time. But with the Ogata transition going on, everything's been in a swivet. Half the time, I don't know whether I'm coming or going.”
I didn't know what response to make to that, so I just nodded.
“Look, Jill. I'll just get right to the point. I know your day is nearly over and you've got things you'd like to get to.”
“Okay.” My nervousness started to tic up a notch.
He sat back in his chair and crossed his long legs. “You know that this Ogata buyout is a great thing for Princeton, don't you?”
I nodded. I also knew that it was an especially great thing for the Krylon family. They stood to walk away with more than a billion dollars in deferred compensation and stock options in the new company.
“Ogata plans to pump new life into the local economy, Jill. Ramping up this facility to produce the Mastodon will add 450 new jobs—and that's just in Princeton. The ripple effect from this will reach out and touch all of our feeder plants, too. Parts. Transportation. Dealerships. Housing. Retail establishments. We're talking the entire the tri-state area. Everyone will benefit. Ogata stands poised to revolutionize Midwest manufacturing—and it all hinges on what happens right here, inside this assembly plant.”
He paused to let his words sink in. Since he hadn't asked me anything, I remained silent.
“But there's a bee in this bonnet now, Jill…a hiccough in the process. And if we don't manage things carefully, everything we've worked so hard to achieve for the people of Indiana might fall right by the wayside.”
It was true that I hadn't attended an Ivy League, northeastern college like Don K., but I was pretty sure I knew where his diatribe was headed.
“You're talking about the U.A.W.?” I asked.
He nodded. “See? This is precisely why we need you, Jill. You're smart.”
It was clear to me that Don K. was working his way around to something, and I knew that the fastest way to get him there was to continue to hold my piece. Grammy Mann taught me that.
I was right. It didn't take him long to start talking again.
“We need smart people on our side, Jill. Smart people who can help us help Princeton benefit from all the things Ogata promises to deliver. Smart people like you.” He leaned forward and laced his fingers together on top of the shiny wood table. “How long have you been with Krylon now, Jill?”
I was sure he already knew the answer, but I told him anyway.
“Twelve years.” As soon as I said it, I realized how ridiculous it was. Twelve years of my life, going no place.
Don K. nodded. “Loyalty. We appreciate that. So does Ogata. It's part of what drives their entire business model. Ogata has a place for you, Jill. Ogata needs smart, savvy people to head its transition team. Ogata needs managers who can help them realize their vision for the people of Princeton.”
I felt like I was listening to one of Kenny Purvis's sermons at the House of Praise. It wouldn't have surprised me to hear someone shout “amen” from the corner of the room.
“Are you one of those people, Jill? Are you prepared to stand up and help us lead this plant to the forefront of automotive and manufacturing excellence?”
I felt sweat running down the back of my shirt—which was surprising, since it was cool enough in that conference room to hang meat.
“I'm not really sure what you're talking about,” I said. “What, exactly, is it you want me to do?”
Don K. smiled. Then he seemed to shift gears. “I just got off the phone with Tony Gemelli. He and his colleague have invoked their right to come inside our plant and post notices about an upcoming union information session they're hosting next week. Of course, we all know that even in the closest families, things sometimes happen that generate bad feelings. Not everyone is as loyal or dedicated to Krylon as you are, Jill. It's important for us to do all we can to prevent a few small incidents of discontent from snowballing into something that could spell disaster for everyone.”
“I don't really see how I could…”
Don K. cut me off. “I pay attention, Jill. And I'm not alone in that. This is a small town. I know that you've grown… friendly …with Ms. Rzcpczinska.”
Now I was doing more than sweating. I was sure that my face was turning beet red.
“I'm not—” I began. But Don K. talked over me again.
“I'm sure you understand that we'd like to have this union matter settled before the Ogata team arrives at the end of the month. As one of our newest Production Managers, I feel confident that you could use your connections and influence with the rank and file members of our Krylon family to smooth over any rough spots that might mistakenly lead them to think hospitably about the U.A.W.'s false promises.”
I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly. Was he offering me a promotion? In exchange for what? For me to become Krylon's self-styled Mata Hari?
I pushed back my chair and got to my feet. “I think you have the wrong person, Don. I don't have that kind of influence.”
He reached over to a leather-bound folio and withdrew a fat envelope. “Don't be so hasty,” he said. He handed me the envelope. “Take some time and think it over. You'll find the details of our offer in here.” He smiled at me again. “I've enjoyed our chat, Jill. It's been too long.”
I stood there in front of him, sweating and holding the fat envelope with the embossed Krylon Motors logo on it. I wanted to tell him to go to hell—that I wasn't willing to become a whore for Krylon any more that I was willing to become a whore for El. The only difference was that El had never asked me to do that. Right then, that one difference seemed huge—bigger and more important than anything Don K. and the Ogata team had to offer me.
“You're still sweating,” Don K. added. He shook his head. “I know it's hot out there…brutal. But, Jill?”
I looked at him.
“You need to know that if this union vote happens, Ogata will pull the plug on Princeton. They'll move the Mastodon and everything associated with it to their plant in Smyrna. And if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that Georgia is a state just full of people who can take the heat without complaining.”
An electronic alarm went off, and Don K. looked at his Rolex.
“If you'll excuse me, I have a conference call coming up. I think you can find your own way out?”
“Good. You can let me know your decision by Friday.”
He turned away from me and picked up the handset of the console telephone that sat on the credenza behind his chair.
I backed out of the room clutching the fat envelope to my chest like some kind of twisted life preserver. I didn't even bother going back into the plant. I walked out the main entrance and headed straight for my truck. There was only one place where I felt like I still belonged.
“Take my advice.” Aunt Jackie slapped a third bottle of cold Stella down in front of me. “Taper off or order some food. You keep this up, and I'm gonna take your keys.”
I'd been sitting at a back table by myself, staring at the unopened envelope Don K. had pushed into my hands before he “dismissed” me at the end of our friendly chat.
“I'm okay,” I said to Aunt Jackie. She wasn't buying it.
“Honey, I been slingin' suds at Hoosier Daddy since Methuselah was in short pants, and one thing I know is how to spot somebody who ain't okay.” She reached inside her blouse and tugged at her bra strap. “You look like somebody shit in your last bowl of Cheerios.”
I shrugged. “It's just something at work.”
“Work?” She shook her head. “I don't suppose this would have anything to do with Luanne Keortge gettin' her ass fired today, would it?”
“You heard about that?” It always amazed me how Aunt Jackie stayed on top of things. She had a better breaking news service than CNN.
Aunt Jackie waved a bar rag toward the street door. “Hell. Everybody in three damn counties heard about that. She roared through here like a bad case of Montezuma's Revenge.”
I looked around the bar. It was still early and there were only two or three other customers.
“Where'd she go?”
“Hell if I know. She pounded a pitcher, tapped off, and took off outta here as fast as she showed up. I think she was outta cigs.” She pushed at her left bosom again. Apparently, it still wasn't settled to suit her. “You know I don't sell ‘em no more since nobody ever came by to fix that damn machine.” She pursed her lips. “Nobody fixes nothin' anymore. In my opinion, that's what's wrong with this country.”
I was just about to agree with her when there was a loud commotion up front. Somebody had burst into the bar and started hollering.
“Hey? Jackie? Where are you? You seen Luanne or Friday?”
It was T-Bomb. Her boisterous entrance succeeded in rousing Lucille, who had been snoring beneath a barstool. He rolled to his feet and waddled toward her, barking and complaining.
“Well, what in tarnation?” Aunt Jackie turned around saw her. “We're over here!” she called out. “Can you pipe down and try to behave like a normal person? Lucille…stop that racket right now!”
T-Bomb barreled over to my table and dropped her massive shoulder bag onto an empty chair.
“I been lookin' all over for you. Where the hell did you get off to?” She didn't wait for me to answer. “That asshole Joe Sykes fired Luanne. She lit outta there like her hair was on fire. That whole place is going straight to heck. What are you drinkin'? That foreign crap?” She looked at Aunt Jackie. “Is it too early to get one of them five dollar pitchers? I need it after this day.” She eyed my lineup of empty Stella bottles. “Better bring us an order of fries, too.” She gestured at me. “This one's a lightweight.” She pulled out a chair and sat down. “So what are we gonna do about Luanne?”
“Are you talking to me?” I asked. I wasn't certain that her tirade was over.
“Hello? McFly?” She shook her head. “Ain't you sittin' right here in front of me?”
Aunt Jackie sighed. “I'll be right back with the beer.” She walked off.
“Look, T-Bomb…I've had a shitty day. I just need some peace and quiet. Okay?”
“ You've had a shitty day? How about Luanne's shitty day? How about the shitty days all of us have had workin' in that damn sweat shop? They can't keep treatin' people this way. Somethin's gotta change. I'm tellin' you.”
“I'm not the one you need to be telling this to.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Ain't you the one who ‘has the ear' of the management?” She made air quotes with her fingers.
I shook my head. “I don't have anybody's ear.”
She sat back against her chair with a huff. “Bull crap. What the hell's the matter with you?”
“Nothing. I'm just tired.”
“Hell. I'm tired, too. We're all tired. Sick and tired of dealin' with them low-life assholes they call managers.”
I nodded again.
She sat there glaring at me for a few seconds without saying anything. And experiencing a few seconds of silence from T-Bomb was like being stranded on an iceberg in the middle of a snowstorm. Even Eskimos didn't have a word to describe quiet like that. Finally, she leaned forward. “Listen. I get that you're frustrated and that you got a lot going on right now with El DeBarge and all. But we still have to figure out a way to fix this mess for Luanne. Jay don't make crap workin' at Champion. She needs this job—especially while Jay Jr. is in the joint and can't contribute.”
I took a deep breath. “I know. I already fixed it with Joe.”
She blinked. “You did?”
“Right before I left for the day.”
She dropped back against her chair again. “Well, I swear. Why the heck didn't you tell somebody?”
“Because I needed a break.”
“Why?” She looked me over. “What happened?'
“Well, hell. If this is how you look when nothing happens, I'd hate to see you when something happens.”
I didn't say anything.
She sighed. “Are you gonna tell me how you fixed it with Joe?”
I had to smile at that, even though I still felt pretty miserable.
“It wasn't hard. I just got him thinking about how much firing Luanne would hurt Jailissa.”
T-Bomb threw back her head and about laughed herself out of her chair. “That dern horndog! I bet he had to pole vault his way back to his office.”
“Yeah…especially after I told him about the outfit she's wearing for Pork Day on Saturday.”
T-Bomb was still chuckling. “Outfit? Why? What's she wearing?”
I shrugged. “I have no clue. I just made something up.”
Aunt Jackie showed up bearing a pitcher of Old Style and a big platter of French fries. “What are you two laughing about?”
T-Bomb had already uncapped the ketchup bottle and was liberally dousing the mound of fries. Aunt Jackie clucked her tongue. “You wanna at least wait until I set the damn plate down?”
“Heck no.” Now T-Bomb was shaking salt all over the fries—and everything else within a three-foot radius. “I think I sweated off five pounds today standin' around in them damn fires of hell.” She pushed the plate toward me. “Eat up on some of these. You need to soak up that beer before we head on over to the fish fry.”
Aunt Jackie just shook her head and tugged at her bra strap before wandering off toward another table. The place was slowly starting to fill up with hot and thirsty autoworkers.
I had completely forgotten that the V.F.W. fundraiser was tonight.
“I'm not going to the fish fry.” I did my best to sound definite. “I don't have the energy for it.”
“Oh, hell's bells. How much damn energy does it take to cram a hunk of catfish down your gullet?”
I sighed. “Don't hassle me, okay?”
“Don't you know by now it's my job to hassle you?”
“Well, you're pretty damn good at it.”
“Ain't that the truth? I wish it paid benefits so I could quit watchin' my life roll right past me on a dern assembly line.” She poured herself another glass of beer. “Hey? Didn't you say that Grammy was comin' this year?”
I nodded. “She's riding with Ermaline.”
“Oh, lord. She'll give all them codgers somethin' to fixate on.”
“Hell no. Ermaline .” T-Bomb lowered her voice. “She don't wear no panties.”
It was a good thing I had already swallowed my mouthful of beer. “ What? ”
T-Bomb was dragging a fat French fry around the edge of the plate to mop up a line of ketchup. “Last year, I got stuck sittin' at a table with that crazy old coot, Delbert Clinton—and all he did was sit there and mutter about how Ermaline kept winkin' at him. After about the tenth time, I asked him what the heck he was talkin' about, and he just pointed over toward the wall, where she was sittin' with Betty Greubel. You know? Where they line up all them straight chairs near the bathrooms? Well, I thought Delbert was just havin' one of his Twilight Zone episodes.” She held her hand up next to her ear and waved her index finger around in tight, little circles. “But damn if she didn't uncross her legs and show off everything god gave her.” T-Bomb shook her head. “I think that's probably just something she got into after Kenny took up with them hoppers. A lot of women go downhill after they get done wrong like that.”
I was amazed. I wondered if Grammy knew this about Ermaline?
Grammy seemed to know everything that went on in our world.
There was a flash of bright light when the street door to the bar opened. I looked over T-Bomb's shoulder and saw Luanne Keortge fill up the doorframe. She was carrying a white, plastic grocery bag. Aunt Jackie saw her, too, and jerked a thumb toward our table.
“Here comes Luanne,” I said to T-Bomb.
She turned around in her chair. “Well, hell. I think we're gonna need more fries.”
Luanne reached our table and yanked out a chair.
“Where the hell have you been?” T-Bomb asked.
“I ran outta smokes.” Luanne pulled a carton of Viceroys out of her bag. “I had to head over to Walmart cause they're cheaper.” She looked at me. “You have to think about things like that when you're unemployed.”
“I talked with Joe…” I began. She cut me off.
“I know. He called Jay.”
I was surprised. “He did?”
She nodded. “Well, Wynona Miles did.”
Wynona was Joe's secretary.
Luanne ripped open the carton of cigarettes and dumped all ten packs out onto the table. “She said I wasn't fired—but I had to sit home for two weeks without pay.”
“Two weeks?” T-Bomb was outraged. “That asshole. What gives him the right to dock you two weeks' pay?”
“I ain't complainin'.” Luanne was already tearing open a pack to fire one up. “It's better than no job at all.”
“I'm sorry about that, Luanne,” I said. “I did the best I could with him.”
“Don't you dare apologize. I know you were the one who fixed this mess for me.” She huffed. “I'm just lucky I still have a job to not get paid for.” She blew out a long column of smoke and chuckled. “Ain't this a great country?”
T-Bomb was shaking her head. “Some day somebody's gonna go postal on them jerk wads.”
“You get no argument from me on that. Especially when it comes to that low-life Buzz Sheets.”
“Why?” T-Bomb asked. “What'd he do?”
Luanne shook her head. “Nothin'. He's just stupid.”
“Yeah, and Earl Junior makes him look like one of them MENSA babies.”
They both laughed.
“You know what that dimwit said to me when I was walkin' out?”
“Buzz?” T-Bomb asked.
“Yeah. He said I was a ‘tough hoe to row.' That man's an idiot.”
“Are you and Jay gonna be okay?” I was worried about how they'd manage with Luanne losing two weeks' worth of pay.
She sighed. “Oh, sure. Jailissa just needs to win that crown more than ever now.”
“That scholarship money would come in handy,” T-Bomb agreed.
“Don't I know it? That girl has her heart set on going to Wabash Valley College in September.”
“She still wants to be a radio announcer?” I asked.
Luanne nodded. “Ever since she got that summer job over at WVJC. She either wants to study that or cosmetology.” She tapped the ash off the end of her cigarette. “Young people these days have more choices than we had.”
“Ain't that the truth,” T-Bomb ate the last French fry and glanced at her watch. “Do you gals wanna get more fries, or head on over to the V.F.W.?”
“Hell, we might as well go.” Luanne started collecting her packs of smokes. “I already bought my tickets last week.” She pushed back her chair. “You comin', Friday?”
I thought about saying no again, but I knew it was a hopeless cause. Together, they would be too much for me. It was easier just to go along and hope we could get out of there while it was still daylight.
Neither of them tended to tarry long over their plates of food.
“Okay,” I said with resignation. I picked up my unopened envelope. “But I can I catch a ride with one of you?” I gestured toward my three empties. “I don't think I should drive until I get something to eat.”
“You can ride with me.” T-Bomb was fishing a ten-dollar bill out of her bag to cover her tab. “But you'll have to sit in back between Luke and Laura's car seats.”
She rolled her eyes. “Donnie pulled the damn passenger seat out three weeks ago because the motor quit working, and it still ain't fixed yet.”
Luanne snorted. “Hell. By now, Jay would probably have it set up in the living room in front of the T.V.”
“Oh, lord. Don't let Donnie hear you say that. He always complainin' that they're more comfortable than them Queen Anne chairs we bought over at Baumberger's in Evansville.”
“I think these men are just a waste of our time. All they do is make messes the rest of us have to clean up.”
T-Bomb laughed at Luanne. “I can think of one thing they mostly manage to do right.”
“Speak for yourself.” Luanne said. “I get more satisfaction out of a pack of AAA batteries.”
I held up a hand. “T.M.I., ladies.”
T-Bomb slapped me on the arm. “Are we embarrassin' you, Friday?”
“No.” I shook my head. “You're making me want to gouge out my mind's eye.”
“Oh, like you never done it to yourself?”
“Remember that summer at over at Oil Belt church camp, when you had the top bunk over Donna Steptoe?”
“Every day, you ran around makin' cow eyes at her, but never said nothin'.”
“But every night, them creakin' bed springs told the whole story.”
I sighed. “Can we please just move along here?”
There was a long, slow hissing sound—like the noise you made when you blew out the spit valve on your saxophones. We all looked around. A sharp, sulfur-like smell rose up around us.
“Oh, Judas!” T-Bomb waved a hand back and forth in front of her face. “It's that damned Lucille. I wish them men would quit feeding him those eggs in beet juice.” She headed toward the door. “Let's get the hell outta here.”
I followed T-Bomb and Luanne, feeling strangely comforted by the fact that, finally, something seemed to stink worse than my job or relationship prospects.
To Be Continued…
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